Lucky Chan-sil

lucky-chan-sil_F_IOF8kDirector: Kim Cho-hee

Released in 2020.

This was a great choice because I nearly picked a Hong Sang-soo film instead and we all know how cheerful those are! Seriously though, I love Hong’s films but I guess I needed something a little more positive.

Nevertheless, Lucky Chan-sil isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It explores the difficulties Korean women face because of sexist societal expectations that prioritise marriage and childbearing over career. These expectations are internalised and this makes for an added sense of failure when 40-year-old film producer Chan-sil (Kim Mal-geum) finds herself suddenly jobless, single and childless following the death of the director she’s worked with for years. Has she thrown away the best years of her life for nothing? Should she have chosen marriage over a career?

Depressed and lonely, Chan-sil attempts to find new meaning in life and in herself. It’s actually what you’d expect of a Hong Sang-soo film, but without his requisite sleazy, sexist male characters.

Although I could feel Chan-sil’s despair, I wasn’t bogged down by it; nor was my sympathy for her complicated by anger at some selfish man treating her like dirt, and the frustration of witnessing her allow him to.

Instead, there are friends, old and new, realistically imperfect and frequently disappointing, but ultimately proving to be the key to surviving life’s trials and realising one’s worth.

My favourite character: the underwear-clad ghost of Leslie Cheung (played with perfect comic timing by Kim Jong-nim). He may truly be a ghost, or he may be a figment of Chan-sil’s imagination — a neat way of showing that what she ultimately needs is simply to forgive and accept herself.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors

virginDirector: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 2000.

Similar to the director’s Right Now, Wrong Then, two versions of the story are told, with details changed and/or added in the second version. Neither version throws much light on any of the characters. One man is cheating on his wife; the other is a two-timing bachelor whose initial interest in the female protagonist increases when he discovers that she’s a virgin 🙄 The female MC is the hardest to figure out. She appears merely inexperienced at first, but is subsequently revealed to be somewhat manipulative. Things at home aren’t exactly straightforward either — she seems to have an unconventional (to say the least) relationship with her brother, but her feelings about this are unclear. There are a few borderline rape scenes, but the men are (thankfully) weak pathetic fools who back off before things go too far. Still, it’s not comfortable to watch.

Hill of Freedom

hillDirector: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 2014.

I watched two Hong Sang-soo films today. Both seem to stress that men can be utter shits and not much to look at, yet still find women to love them. The men in the two films are various kinds of yuck. Sorry, but I can’t find a better word to represent the way the male characters suck, hah. The main character in ‘Hill of Freedom’ might be said to be the best of the rotten bunch, but he too turns out to be a miserable weakling. As for the women, they are mostly a pathetic, desperate lot. The writer/director’s films tend to show people at their worst and I can’t stop watching them. Perhaps the utter awfulness of his characters reassures me that I am not alone in having to endure piece of shit humans, that there are just too many of them and so, impossible to avoid, and that I am not the only piece of shit in this world. We are a universal condition.

La Vérité

La VeriteDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2019.

Another excellent film written and directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. It explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, and the space between memory and truth. Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve are wonderful, and so was Ethan Hawke (whom I usually want to smack).

After Life

after-life-11Director: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 1999.

In this film, set in a station between life and the afterlife, the dead are given one memory to take with them, the only one they’ll be allowed for all eternity. Which one would you choose?

In the film, the dead are given two days to decide. The admin workers at the station interview the newly deceased about their life, and then design, stage and film the chosen memories. The films are viewed and the dead depart for the hereafter, each with their memory. Nothing else will be recalled.

Frankly, it sounds ghastly, although perhaps it won’t just be about the endless viewing of one short film clip, but more like a permanent feeling of bliss. I won’t reveal more because of spoilers, but I love how the film explores the different ways people come to terms with their lives and how death allows for perspective. There’s much to think about — and I’m sure the film will reveal something new each time it’s viewed (I’m definitely planning on re-watching it). By the way, this is the third film in which Soseki’s Japanese interpretation of ‘I love you’ is referenced, and it doesn’t ever get old, does it?

The Power of Kangwon Province

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Released in 1998.

power2

There’s a poster for this film that has the tagline: ‘Love’s fleeting when most in need’. Whether it’s a translation from the tagline on a Korean poster or it was dreamt up by the distributors of the film’s release in the English-speaking world, it’s pretty stupid and meaningless. The characters in Kangwon Province may need love, but if they only have themselves to blame if love sidesteps their grubby grasp and runs for the hills. A more passive aggressive, cowardly, emotionally-stunted bunch of lost souls has never before been dreamt up! I’m beginning to realise that I’m never going to like the people in Hong Sang-soo’s films, but maybe their lives are just too familiar for me to stop watching.

Still Walking

still walkingDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2008.

This film made me melancholy. Perhaps it’s a sign of me growing old(er). Just like how I sometimes get flashes of anxiety about illness and death. It was painful watching the bickering old husband and wife; the son dreading spending time with his aged parents; the old folk looking forward to seeing him again, not knowing that he and his wife are discussing making their next trip shorter. There’s much more to the story, but I just kept thinking about lonely old age and being forgotten.

(N.B. Abe Hiroshi who was terrible in The Garden of Evening Mists is rather good in this.)

Rent-a-Cat

RentaNeko-CESS

Director: Ogigami Naoko

Released in 2012

Sayoko (Ichikawa Mikako) is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but thankfully, there is no tight-arsed male whose world she has to upend or soul she has to save in her adorably quirky way. She does hope for a man though. She wishes to marry and honeymoon in Hawaii, but her loneliness doesn’t take the film down the rom-com route that I expected it to. Instead, what we get is an exploration of the various ways people can feel alone and isolated. Is the cure a cat? Sayoko’s many cats help to plug the hole of loneliness in her life and the lives of those who rent them. But, as the film shows, a cat isn’t a miracle cure, but then again, neither is a man or a dream vacation.

Right Now, Wrong Then

Right_Now,_Wrong_Then_(poster)Director: Hong Sang-soo
Released in 2015.

Not sure how I feel about this one. I like the style, the slice-of-life approach; the long, rambling, seemingly pointless conversations; and the awkwardness of the characters, each one blindsided by mundane circumstances. However, the main characters made me impatient and peevish. The female MC is slender and pale, with long silky hair in a messy updo. She has a soft, weak, almost childlike voice. She’s beautiful or is supposed to be. Personally, I find her looks bland, but this is a Korean film and I’m told the Koreans value skinny women with tiny faces and white skin.

This woman, Hee-jeong (Kim Min-hee), used to be a fashion model, but she has quit and is now living in her hometown, with her mother, and dabbling in painting. The male MC (Jung Jae-young) is a famous art house director, in town for a screening of one of his films and a Q&A session. The film comprises two parts in which the same events unfold with slightly different details and outcomes. Predictably, the director, Ham Chun-soo, is smitten by Hee-jeong in both versions. In the first version he’s rather slimy and sleazy; in the second, he’s foolish and sentimental. He’s thinking with his dick either way and I find him slightly despicable when he cries and tells her he’s in love and will never see her again because he’s married with two children. Still, it’s preferable to when he doesn’t mention his wife and is outed by Hee-jeong’s friends at a party. Whatever. He keeps telling Hee-jeong she’s beautiful, as if he’s saying something remarkable. But then again, she seems to fall for it.

Both man and woman are revealed to be entirely, tediously ordinary and this is probably why I am drawn to them. They are like people I know; people I work with; they might be me. Their behaviour makes me cringe, but I can empathise and sympathise. How surprising and gratifying to see real life in a film. How boring and, at the same time, riveting. No matter how annoyed I am by the silly actions of the characters, I can’t tear my eyes away because it’s like eavesdropping or reading personal letters secretly. I guess I like this film even if I dislike the characters in it.

Our Little Sister

Our_Little_Sister_posterDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2015

As one of four sisters, I’ve always been drawn to stories about sisters. From Alcott’s Little Women and Chekhov’s Three Sisters to Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and Diana Wynn Jones’s The Time of the Ghost, the relationship dynamics between sisters, and the studies of their various personalities are endlessly fascinating, to me.

In this film, when their estranged father dies, Sachi, Yoshino and Chika discover they have a young half-sister named Suzu. After meeting her at the funeral, the three women invite their new sister to live with them at their seaside home in Kamakura. I was half-expecting and dreading angst and sulking from 14-year-old Suzu, and plenty of hiccups as the sisters adjust to their new family member and Suzu gets used to unfamiliar surroundings, including a new school and friends. However, it’s a thankfully peaceful and smooth transition, with Suzu fitting well into her sisters’ lives and making friends easily. Any conflict and friction comes from the two older sister’s personal lives, as they struggle with romantic relationships and their own private demons. Suzu is, furthermore, forced to finally deal with her anger towards their mother, and this helps her empathise more with her sisters and to make an important choice about the future.